DURHAM — The controversial 751 South development got a boost from the state House on Tuesday, as legislators voted approval 70-47 on the second reading of a bill requiring cities to provide water and sewer service to any area within their urban growth boundaries.
Durham’s urban growth boundary includes the 751 South site on N.C. 751 near the Chatham County line. A third reading of the bill could come Wednesday.
Alex Mitchell, president of Southern Durham Development, said the bill was introduced in response to an earlier legislative attempt to “kill” his project.
“This thing got dragged to Raleigh by our opponents,” Mitchell said.
As now written, SB 382, originally a state Senate act about withholding taxes, also delays implementation of a section of the Jordan Lake Rules pertaining to new development for two years. The 751 South site is in the Jordan watershed, but the delay was proposed by Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, at the request, he said, of the Greensboro City Council.
State Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, offered an amendment to remove the urban growth provisions, but it was voted down largely along party lines.
“This is a situation where the city of Durham should not be told what decisions to make with respect to utilities,” Luebke said during the House debate. “The developer is coming to the General Assembly and meddling with city affairs.”
Bill supporter Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake responded: “This is not about Durham. This is about cities playing fair.”
If SB 382 passes its third reading, it goes to the state Senate for approval in its new form.
In February, the Durham City Council unanimously rejected Southern Durham Development’s request for connection to the city system after an economic analysis found the connection would not begin to pay for itself for at least seven years.
In 2011, though, the council had expanded the urban growth boundary to include the 167-acre 751 South site near Jordan Lake.
The substitute version of SB 382 was introduced Monday in the House Rules committee and approved by a 15-4 vote, although opponents claimed some affected municipalities were unaware of it.
State Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, described the maneuver as “sneaky and underhanded.”
Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, introduced the revision after a conversation with attorney Cal Cunningham, who successfully defended Southern Durham Development in a lawsuit over a 2010 rezoning for 751 South.
Cunningham, a college friend of Moore’s, spoke in favor of the provision in the Rules Committee hearing, making particular references to the Southern Durham Development situation.
Besides Luebke and Hackney, Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield spoke against the bill Monday. Bonfield and City Councilman Mike Woodard, who voted against the urban growth extension in 2011, declined to discuss what the city might do if SB 382 passes both houses. The N.C. League of Municipalities also opposes the bill.
‘What went down’
Mitchell, the Southern Durham Development president, said the provision affecting Durham and his project was inspired by legislators opposing 751 South.
Earlier in June, a provision was added to a Senate bill then in the House Government Committee that would have barred counties from providing utilities to unincorporated areas within a certain distance of city limits without the city’s permission.
In 2011, Durham County approved extending sewer service to 751 South.
That provision drew opposition from Durham County authorities and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners after it was appended to SB 231, “Municipal Incorporation Standards,” on June 7. It has since been withdrawn.
“That’s what started this whole thing, this underhanded thing,” Mitchell said. “That’s the real deal of what went down.”
As planned, 751 South would include up to 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial space. Opponents claim it would threaten water quality in already-polluted Jordan Lake.
Opponents have also cried foul over some tactics the developers have used as the project moved through administrative review and consideration by the Durham County Board of Commissioners. That led to the lawsuit in which Cunningham defended the developer; the suit, filed in late 2010, was dismissed “with prejudice” in January.
Staff writers Rosella Age and Craig Jarvis contributed to this report.